AMERICA 11-Mar-2014 Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon
India is a land of colorful festivals which occur almost round the year. Festivals are the days of celebration and occasions for fun and merry making .Indian festivals have also deeper meaning than as occasions for joy, fun and frivolic. There are judicious rationale and legends behind each festival which have spiritual meaning and which teach us practical lessons for our everyday living. it is the recognition of auspiciousness and joy, which prompts celebration .It is the spirit of optimism or our belief in the lighter side of affairs that prompts us to conceive and celebrate festivals . Our Hindu culture is interwoven with festivals and epics , which are the modus oprandi followed in guiding the people through right paths of living .As Hindu faith assigns divinity to nature and our country being predominantly agricultural culture , we find many local festivals associated with harvesting time, indicative of nature’s bounty like Onum , Pongal, Vishu, Holi, Bisaki and so on. Celebration of festivals helps us sustain our sense of hope or optimism and keeps us in high spirits .We derive several benefits , if we understand and assimilate the real spirit underlying the celebration of festivals .Festivals are also occasions to promote fraternity and brotherhood or camaraderie among people , which people are expected to practice during other times also and which help us to live in peace and harmony . Particularly in today’s machine- paced fast life, human relationships are hardly given it’s due place, festival occasions give chance to renew the lost ties between man and man , if we use such occasions to practice human relationships as our second nature . Festivals, being auspicious in nature should result in auspicious outcomes and not in harmful results. Festivals should not be ostentatious display of wealth, many times ill-gotten nor should it be one of lavish spending beyond one’s means.
Holy which is a very ancient festival is celebrated during the season of harvesting winter crops or rabbi crops in most parts of our country except south. So the origin of Holi celebration is in those parts. Later due to influx of people of those regions to the southern parts and happy assimilation of culture , holi festival started being celebrated in the south .Now it is celebrated though out length and breadth of our country, though we find some regional variations in the rituals and practices associated with celebration .In some states it is celebrated for 2 days, in other places like Vrindavan and Mathura where Lord Krishna grew up, the celebration goes on for 16 days to commemorate the divine love of Radha and Gopis for Krishna. There is a description of this festival in the Jaimini’s Purvamimamsa sutra. It has become symbol of national identity and makes us feel oneness among us. It is a socio-cultural force of national integration. It makes us feel that we are Indians first and last. On the first day, in the evening, people in the neighborhood assemble and lit a bonfire and sing and dance around it. Holi festival is also called ‘vasanthoslav ‘or spring festival, because it is celebrated during spring season in the northern and eastern parts of India. It is also called as ‘Kamotsav ‘meaning festival of Kamadeva, the God of love in Indian mythology.
Holi festival falls on month of phalguna , March on full moon or poornima day This year (2014) it falls on 17th of March .It is celebrated even by generations of Indians settled down in other countries, where ever Indians are settled . which shows the force of culture and cultural identity . In U.S.A Indian Americans celebrate holi with pomp and glory starting from March and extending further.
Generally Holi is celebrated on two days. The preparation for holi celebration starts days ahead. Boys go round and collect branches of trees to be used as firewood for preparing bonfire. On the evening of holi day, people in the neighborhood assemble in a place and prepare bonfire. They sing and dance round the bonfire .It is interpreted in two ways : 1 After a long winter where there is dullness , when the spring season begins , people bid goodbye to chilling winter. Second, the practice of making bonfire is linked with the story of demon Hiranyakashsipu, son of demon Hiranyaksha, his sister Holika and his son Prahlad. Hianyakashipu, demon king who ruled over heaven and earth was dead against devas and wanted everyone to worship him and not devas. .His son Prahlad was a staunch devotee of Supreme lord Narayana, reclining on the serpent Aadishesha and refused to worship his father as the supreme lord .He tried his level best to convert his son and make him follow the culture of demons , who were personification of all vices . Having failed in his efforts , he made many attempts to kill him, thinking that he would follow the clan of devas , when he grew up and succeeded him and that it would be end of asuras . Prahlad was forced to drink poison. It is said that poison turned into nectar in his body. He was trampled by elephants, but he came unhurt. He was pushed into a pit full of snakes, but nothing happened to him due to strong faith and devotion to Lord Narayana, one responsible for the creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe.
Hiranyakashipu’s sister by name Holi had got the boon from Brahma from her severe penance that she would not be destroyed by fire , if she alone entered fire .Hirinyakshipu thought of using her power to kill his son. As per his instruction, Holika took Prahlad in her lap , as if to fondle him and entered the blazing fire . She had forgotten that there was a rider in the boon granted to her that she would not be destroyed by fire, only if she entered fire alone. She entered with Prahlad, forgetting that condition.Prahlad was all the time chanting the name of Narayana and meditating on him. He came out of fire absolutely safe due to grace of Lord Narayana and Holika was burnt to ashes . This shows victory of virtues over evils. Prahalad was commonly known as Baktha Prahlad. He believed that God existed in everything both in animate an even in inanimate objects. When his father pointing out to the iron pillar in the palace asked him whether there was God in it , Prahlad answered that that that God was present in it and that he could see God in the iron pillar . When Hirinyakasipu stuck the pillar with his sord, challenging whether God would appear, he to his amazement saw God in the form of Narasimha or in the form of half man and half lion with lion’s face and man’s body suddenly appearing from the pillar. Lord Narasimha tore the chest of Hirnyakaspu into two halves and killed him instantly . That was the strength of his faith in divinity. Here the lesson for us that we should see divinity in everyone and everything around us and hence treat them with kindness and compassion and that serving fellow men in need is serving God. As Prahlad had no other thoughts except that of God, he was least apprehensive of danger to his life. God shielded him from all dangers. He felt at ease in his aunt’s company, though he knew about her malign motive. What happened, it seems, was that she was burnt to ashes and Prahlad came out unscathed or escaped miraculously due to his self-discipline or control over his senses, chaste disposition, noble deeds and unshakable devotion to God. It is symbolic of victory of good over evil ,divinity over demonic force and shows one can achieve anything with strong faith in what one is doing and ‘lakshyabodha’ or one-pointed attention and resolution. The episode depicts that conduct of virtues will win over conduct of vices. This is the lesson we have to learn from this episode, without questioning whether, it actually happened or whether it was a concocted story. The word Holi means ‘ burning ‘ , the word Holika is linked with fire, one who got immunity against fire .The name Holi festival is derived from these meanings . Holi is also called as ‘Holika dhahanam’ or burning of Holika. Agni or God of fire, which is propitiated by ancient Rishis on wards, which represents God. All gods are pleased by sacrifices made to fire. Fire purifies sins. All pure souls are untouched and unhurt by Fire. In Ramayana, Sita Devi jumped into blazing fire to prove her chastity and nobility after her return to Ayodhya after captivity in Lanka, she came out unscathed. The celebration of Holi festival is true to its spirit , only if it makes to eschew the evil qualities in us and imbibe good qualities and practice them in our day to day life .We should emulate Bakta Prahlad , who though took birth in the clan of demons , developed divine qualities through self-efforts. Our destiny is not sealed by our past actions. It is within our power to change our destiny for better by sublime actions.Hiranyakashipu had obtained boon that none in the form of God or man would be able to kill him , nor could be killed either during day or night, neither inside or outside house and neither in heaven or earth . He had got near immunity to death. Because of the atrocities created by him, to get rid of him was need of the hour. On appeal from Gods, Lord Narayana assumed the form of Narasimha with upper half of the body resembling lion and lower half that of man. when Hirinyakasipu, ultimately attempted to kill his son with his own hand , Lord appeared in Narasimha avatar and killed Hiranyakasipu by tearing his chest with his paws and claws .This shows how ever much we plan to avert crisis happening to us , it will befall on us , if we follow paths of immorality and injustice . God is always with person of virtues and who have attained mastery over themselves or who live for others.
On the second day of Holi people play with colors. There are stories of how this practice was started . One version is that Lord Krishna noticed how lighter was Radha’s complexion.. His mother suggested in light vein that Krishna should smear colors on Radha’s cheeks. He did accordingly. Radha returned it with equal vigor. Thus this practice was followed by Krishna devotees . another version is that Lord Krishna celebrated this festival with Radha and Gopis when they smeared each other’s face gleefully .
People assemble and take extreme delight in applying colors and spraying colored water on each other. It is called’ Dhuleti’ playing with colors . It is taken in sportive spirit and in good humor .It is a way of showing pure or universal love and not sensuous love towards each other .It is done innocently , in the sense as childhood prank or without motive of hurting others. It helps to shake off the inhibitions and come out of one’s shell or seclusion. People, irrespective of their age enjoy play of colors. What does this play of colors signify? It is relating to each other with warmth and open heart , without inhibitions and feelings of reservations we usually harbor .It is not expression of physical love or love influenced by lust ,but pure or universal love , the force of attraction and bond between all creations .People become spontaneous in their behaviors like children. The warmth of personal relationships flows from the bottom of the heart. we should keep these and experience these feelings ., otherwise the play of color deteriorates into one of mean quality . The members of the opposite sex should show brotherly and sisterly feelings towards each other, while engaging in the play of color, by putting deliberate efforts. Our sadistic instincts or tendency to inflict pain to others and amorous motives may spring up in our minds thinking that we can run wild, without censure. The purpose of play with color will be defeated, if that happens. It teaches us the lesson that we should not have unnecessary inhibitions and should not be too touchy, on the other hand, we should be open minded and light- hearted and at the same time we should have necessary restraint on our behavior or maintain decorum in our conduct . we should not take everything too seriously or take to our heart for keeping good mental health and for healthy interpersonal and social life . We should not build mountain out of molehill. We should appear with a face with gentle smile rather than with puffed up face .We should be relaxed rather than being tensed up all the time, due to perceived pressures from outside.
The riots of colors used represent the pleasant colors and moods of spring season when the nature is at her best. It is said that the nature spruces up to celebrate Holi festival and the people swing along with the mood of the seasons.
Colors are expressions of beauty. Satyam or truth, Sivam or goodness and Sundaram or beauty are the three fundamental human values and universal spirit. Appreciation of color is appreciation of beauty .Nature is the finest example of beauty with abundance of colors and shapes that are seen in every creations in the universe , sun, moon, stars, trees , animals, flowers, sky , mountains, rivers, clouds, glaziers and what not . Nature is the greatest Artist, who has played with all possible shades of eye catching colors. God has given man the privilege of eyesight including capability for color vision in much more developed form than seen in subhuman species. Imagine the world without light and colors. Persons who lost their vision later after birth can know how deprived they in enjoying the beauty outside. Though our surroundings are most beautiful, we hardly observe, appreciate and enjoy the beauty of nature. The practice of play with colors during Holi should help us to reawaken our sense of appreciation of beauty which is nothing short of being a part of divinity. Colors have soothing effect on us, if chosen appropriately. They affect our moods. For instance, green color gives the feelings of peacefulness and tranquility of mind and red color energizes us and make us active. The rainbows with its seven colors, the changing colors of clouds in a clear sky , the emerald green of meadows, peacock feathers ,the tiger’s and Antelope’s skins , the parrot’s body , the butterflies and plumes of several other birds, and the skins of snakes are wonders in color combinations . One clear message that comes out of play of color during Holi festival is that we should appreciate and enjoy the beauty of nature , which nature has given us free and which helps the expansion of our minds and make them working more wholesome . All of us are overanxious about our appearance or how we put up before others, in a wrong way. We spend considerable time in personal makeup. This is not appreciation of beauty. We do it for show off. When we do it for show off, we feel anxious , with the result that it not only fails to contribute to our wellbeing , but it also affects our self-esteem or feelings of worth of oneself. With our excessive preoccupation with our the so-called physical beauty , we worry when age related deteriorative changes take place and try our level best to keep up youthful look. Fear of growing old haunts us. We should present ourselves neatly and elegantly not to impress upon others, but to make us feel good , which comes out of our rare gift of appreciation and enjoyment of beauty . In using different colors during Holi , there is also a belief that combination of varied colors and hues takes away all worries and makes life more colorful , color representing joy, happiness and rejuvenation of spirit . All colors originate from a single color white. This reveals the age old discovery of our seers that there is unity underlying everything , all earthly creations, the upanishadic saying s’That though art ‘or ‘Tatwamasi’.
The play with colors is also linked with the epic of stories of Lord Krishna, the 8th avathar or incarnation of Vishnu born in human form in Dwaparayuga to redeem earth from adharma or lack of virtues or sins. First story goes like this. Child Krishna complanined to his mother yeshoda that he being dark in complexion was not as charming as Radha. Yeshoda pacified him by saying that he could apply colors on her face and make her face look ugly. Taking that cue, Krishna started playing with Radha and Gopis by applying colors on their faces. as a part of his pranks and since then , it became a custom .It indicates childhood innocence of believing what was told .Innocence and uprightness as opposed to being deceptive or crocked are to be cultivated by all . It is a path to truth. As one grows up, this sterling quality gets lost or lie dormant in man,. Thus in the play of color, people recreate the Rasaleela or play of Krishna with Gopikas in Brindavan .
The ritual of lighting bonfire during Holi is also linked to the story of Krishna’s killing of ogress Putana. It is assumed that Ogress Putana is burnt to death .The story goes like this. Kamsa, Krishna’s maternal uncle, knowing that his nephew would kill him for his atrocious rule tried to kill Krishna right from when he was an infant. Ogress Puthana had mysterious poison. At Kamas’s instance, Puthana went to Ambadi, watched the baby Krishna happily swinging in the cradle. She took Krishna in her arms, giving impression on the onlookers as fondling the child and started feeding him with her poised breast milk to kill him. Krishna having divine power, not only was immune to poison, but could also suck her blood till she died. This incident is commemorated .It depicts victory of divine forces over devilish ones or triumph of virtues over vices. It conveys that God’s grace which comes out of lofty character shields us from all calamities and misfortunes.
There is another story connected with ogress Dhundhi by name who was supposed to trouble children. Gods found out a plan to rid her of the earth. She would be destroyed, if a team of boys went crazy and nag her . There was a practice that the boys in the neighborhood would team up , light born fire imagining that she had been kept inside and go round the fire by singing the songs in humorous vein, believing that she would flee away . This represents fighting against the evils collectively and or with firm determination. The practice also urges to develop team spirit or collective action in facing problems.
In South India, people follow the tradition of propitiating or worshipping Lord Kamadeva or also known as Manmatha , the God of love in ancient mythology , who can instill love in people . It is called ‘Kamadhahanam or burning Kamadeva to death ‘. The legend goes like this. Daksha’s daughter Dakshayini was married to Siva. Daksha was hurt when his son –in-law Siva did not pay due respect to him, by prostrating before him, when all other kings and celestial beings prostrated before him. To avenge his feelings against Siva, he did not invite Siva and Dakshayini when he conducted a yagna. When Dakshayini attended the function unininvited against the advice of her lord, Daksha insulted her by ignoring her . She became furious and immolated herself by jumping in the fire . When Shiva heard about the incident, he was in great sorrow. He abandoned all wordly affairs and began strenuous penance. As Siva stopped attending his wordly duties, the affairs of the earth were suffering. Gods decided that Siva should be woken up from his penance and he should be drawn to the life of householder. Parvati was serving him out of real love to marry him. Devas with the help of Kamadeva hatched a plan. Kamadeva or God of love could make any one under the influence of amorous love. He knew that if he woke up Siva, he was sure to destroy him . In spite of this knowledge, Kamadeva volunteered to distract his penance, for the good of the people and earth, they live in . It was a case of self-sacrifice. He shot his flowery arrow at Siva . Siva woke up and saw beautiful Pavathi by his side. He fell in love with her and accepted her as his consort. At the same time, Siva saw Kamadeva as responsible for distracting his meditation. He became angry and burnt Kamadeva by opening his third eye , situated on his forehead , which is a source of tremendous power .This incident is referred to as ‘Kamadhahanam’ meaning burning of amorous love .People believe burning of Kamadeva in the bornfire.It implies burning of carnal desires. The message for mortals is that they should burn their sensuous desires or at least not allow them to overwhelm them, if allowed to have their sway, would result in self-destruction. God Kamadeva is worshipped for his spirit of self-sacrifice. He gave up his life for the sake of people. He remained as role model for others.
Except propitiating Lord Krishna and Kamadeva in certain parts of our country, divine worship is not a part of Holi celebration. Sweets are distributed among relatives and friends and feast is arranged on those two days, as done during any other festive occasions .
In ancient days, lighting bonfire was limited. Today with increase in population large quantity of wood is used for bonfire, which results in cutting down large number of trees leading to deforestation .It also pollutes the atmosphere. Use of wood should be restricted. It should be done only symbolically. Instead of burning large pile of wood, a wick can be lighted as a symbol. It will help to save the trees and in turn precious forests, of which the life of living beings, including man depends. Similar is the case with colors used. Traditionally, colors only from herbs having medicinal value were used to make color powders and only those were applied and or sprayed on each other. It was welcome and it protected against spread of certain viral and other diseases. In contrast, today because of commercialization, the colored powders are mostly prepared from synthetic dyes, which are very harmful to human health . For example , Leadoxide is used for black color , which causes kidney failure .Mercuy sulphate is used for red color which causes cancer . Aluminum bromide is used for silver cover which causes cancer. Thus all the synthetic colors which are available in the market cause some health hazard or other. Hence, use of synthetic colors should be avoided. In fact there should be law banning the use of synthetic colors. Apart from affecting human health directly through contact, they pollute air, water and soil. so we should practice only eco-friendly practices in celebrating Holi festival . We should maintain the piety and spiritual fervor of the festival .only natural or herbal colors should be used during holy. For instance , turmeric which has immense therapeutic properties may be mused for getting yellow color ,Beat root can be used for getting pink color,Hennamehandi can be used for for orange –red color, pomegranate peals may be used for yellow color and so on. There are herbs , shrubs, leaves, roots, flowers and fruits which can be used to get any conceivable colors, all of which will have some medicinal properties .We should try new vegetable sources. We have a rich tradition of Ayurveda, a branch of medicine, which is upaveda of Rig-Veda, which deals with innumerable herbal materials which have both health benefits and properties of color.
In conclusion, it may be stated that we should celebrate the very important festival Holi in a deserving manner and in its true spirit and in a holy way and not in an unholy way. Holi is an occasion to introspect and chasten our qualities of conduct and behavior.Our actions should be directed by our rationality and social responsibility and without undermining the divine spirit of the festival.
A very happy Holy to all the Readers of this Article…………………………..